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Adjusting Mental Minor Adjustments

One constant refrain in minor league statistical analysis is that Context is Everything. Statistics mean very little in a vacuum, but instead, we need to know factors like their age relative to level, their league’s run environment, their park’s run environment. These are all factors that can wreak havoc on our attempt to judge a basic AVG/OBP/SLG batting line. We’ll be playing around to make things context-neutral all winter, but today, I wanted to magnify an environment that is universally known to favor pitching: the Florida State League.

Scouts and statisticians alike know the difficulty hitters face in the FSL, and both are long ahead of me in making adjustments. If you want to see the specific proof, I always point to a great offseason article at the Hardball Times by Justin Inaz. In terms of runs and BaseRuns alike, the FSL is the hardest league in professional baseball for hitters. As a result, I think most of us (I know that I’ve been) are guilty of seeing a batting line out of Florida, and saying, “Well, he’s played in the FSL, so I should boost up those numbers relative to other High-A players.”

However, it’s important to remember that if we continue on the path towards context-neutral, our adjustments need to be taken a step further: park adjustments. While we know how the league plays in the context of the Carolina and (especially) California Leagues, I haven’t seen a ton detailing how the specific stadiums play within the context of the league itself. In that vein, I calculated the runs per game and home runs per game at each FSL stadium (by both the home and road team) from both this season, and over the 2008-2010 period.

Name           R/G     HR/G     3R/G     3HR/G     
FSL Avg       8.45     1.01     8.34      1.10
Brevard       8.02     0.67     7.84      0.88
Clearwater    8.59     1.31     8.30      1.34
Daytona       9.07     1.30     8.99      1.21
Dunedin       8.81     1.47     8.89      1.45
Fort Myers    8.64     0.76     8.13      0.90
Jupiter       7.79     0.63     7.72      0.84
Lakeland      8.07     0.93     8.87      1.34
Palm Beach    7.68     0.75     7.78      0.79
St. Lucie     9.93     1.07     9.35      1.27
Tampa         7.56     0.81     7.77      0.78

Note: Not included above are Bradenton and Charlotte, because those affiliates haven’t existed for 3 years. Bradenton has played (relatively) hitter-friendly this year, at 9.79 runs and 1.30 home runs per game. Charlotte is somewhere between neutral and pitcher-friendly, at 7.38 runs and 1.13 homers per contest.

You see quite a bit of diversity in those numbers. This season, for every home run hit in Jupiter, there have been 2.3 hit in Dunedin. The league has three stadiums that seem to be extreme pitcher’s parks (Jupiter, Palm Beach, Tampa), and two others that favor pitchers (Brevard, Fort Myers) by a decent amount. By contrast, hitters from Clearwater, St. Lucie, Dunedin and Daytona probably receive more credit from our sub-conscious FSL adjustments than they deserve.

Some thoughts on how these findings should alter our thoughts on specific prospects numbers this season.

  • Corban Joseph was recently promoted to Double-A, and you can bet he’s happy to be away from Tampa. Joseph’s final FSL numbers (.302/.378/.436) look good without any context, but only improve on closer inspection. In just two more games on the road, Joseph hit seven more doubles, three more triples, and two home runs more than his home production. His ISO was .076 higher on the road, so I think it’s safe to say there’s more juice in the bat than his overall numbers might suggest.
  • On the opposite side, I’m still not sold on the “breakout” of Andrew Brackman. The reports on stuff are very good, and his command has certainly improved. So I don’t deny there has been improvement. But Brackman allowed no home runs and a 2.36 ERA in 27 innings in Tampa, and outside of there, in 33 innings, gave up five home runs and a 7.29 ERA. On the encouraging side, it doesn’t appear that the breakouts of Dellin Betances or Adam Warren seem Tampa-induced. The jury is still out on Graham Stoneburner.
  • The Brewers have something really interesting in former Cal State Fullerton star Erik Komatsu. He’s another guy that even looks positive superficially (.325/.407/.442 thru 101 games), but even better with park adjustments. Komatsu has just nine extra-base hits in 203 at-bats in Brevard County, versus 23 extra-base hits in 182 road at-bats. With good baserunning, corner defense, and patience, a boost in his power projection really makes him an interesting prospect. Though at 22 years old, it’s important to mention that by the ARL context, his numbers would take a hit.
  • There aren’t great examples screaming out of the league’s two least-friendly stadiums for hitters, Jupiter and Palm Beach. However, I will say that I’m not totally ready to close the book on Jake Smolinski or Tommy Pham. Smolinski is further down the Bust Path, but I’ll give him one more season to prove me wrong. His contact skills are pretty good, and I do think there’s power somewhere in that bat. Pham’s tools have always teased, but now he’s taken his patience to the next level (14.6 BB%), and showed power on the road before his promotion. He’s backing his way into legitimate prospect status.
  • The ever-confusing Trevor May, an inconsistent pitcher like I’ve never seen before, maybe should have been given more time before his demotion back to Low-A. May has dominated back in Low-A, and I think he could do the same here. The problem was just that his bad command really hurt more in Clearwater, where his HR/FB ratio was badly inflated – he gave up seven home runs in 35.2 innings. On the road, where the walks were an equal problem but the home runs weren’t (0 in 34.1 IP), he was great, with a 2.62 ERA.

    Plenty of more examples, but needless to say, there’s a lot here. This winter, we’ll spend all sorts of time neutralizing as best we can, and really get an idea of how these players actually performed relative to each other.